Monday, September 10, 2007

We have all survived ... for now

Let's just get things straight. There will be circuitous mentions of food but there will be no photos of food. If you are looking for photos, then you need to move on. If you are looking for what is going on in the mind of someone who is at times in turmoil, then you are at the right place.

Right now I'm in the middle of my aunt's birthday season. This would be the one fighting cancer. This would also be the same one who introduced the concept of the birthday season to our family many years ago.

All of her siblings were in town this weekend with the exception of one brother. He is currently teaching at a college and did not think it would be fair to his students to ditch out on them. Because after one year of teaching at this college, his classes are packed. Like I knew they would be. He had given up teaching many years ago and I kept pleading with him to return to it. He is the reason why I survived physics and calculus -- two of his favorite subjects -- in high school. He has this inner peace that I have yet to see in anyone else. Perhaps I should talk to him more often so that one day I too can achieve that kind of peace. Because nothing ruffles him.

And here we go. The weekend started off OK. Saturday morning was brunch at Lois the Pie Queen. (By the way, the portions at Lois's? Huge! And the review is so right about the charm. The attentiveness of the staff made me feel like I was in someone's home down South. I was late arriving and eventually felt a hand on my shoulder. "Hon, have you had a chance to order yet?" Once I did, they checked in several times to let me know that my food was on the way.) Then we all hung out at my aunt's house. Sunday morning my dad called to ask me to join them at Cornerstone Cafe for breakfast. I have no job and money is low. Of course, I showed up for the free meal. And then back to my aunt's house. Then back home to get ready for dinner -- the real party. And that's where I knew I would be in trouble.

I could probably take my dad's family on their own. But their friends? There are certain women who have a way of making really catty remarks. Like the main speaker who acknowledged all of the family except for me. And yes, she knew I was there. Everyone else would excuse her behavior but deep in my heart I know the bitch did it on purpose. Because that's the kind of bitch that she is. Why my cousins over me? Because I just don't fit their mold of what is acceptable. And at this point in my life, I don't want to. Their lives, while being stable, bore the shit out of me. They are so Stepford. I have given my closest friends instructions that if I ever become like that, they should take me out.

I have had numerous conversations with my dad on this topic over the years. (I'm hoping that the upcoming conversation with both of my parents will get rid of all of this. That if they add up all of the parts of me that they each know individually, they will come close to the real me. That's the real problem of compartmentalization. Unless you are willing to let someone add up all of the parts, s/he will never really truly know you.) I have tried to explain to him how after so many years of trying to gain acceptance from these kind of people and then realizing that I never would, I would just not like to be around them. The whole thing is rather painful for me. And my father just doesn't get it all. I think that this is what my dad meant when he was talking about compromise -- the idea of being happy with something even if you are not happy to be there. Although the event was really positive overall, there were those moments in there. Compromise? Fuck them all.

And while driving home, I started to replay those moments in my mind and felt tears forming in my eyes. And I had thoughts about this underlying belief of my parents' -- that of keeping up appearances. Some days with them, I feel like I'm on the campaign trail. Not me. Them. Because my dad's friends have tried to convince him into running for some sort of office. And then it will come down to whose skeletons in the closet are bigger -- his or mine. Probably mine. Because the positive things my dad has been able to do for his community far outweigh his negative points. Of course, I have another year to go before I reach the age at which my dad "stopped drinking."

But before I start getting deeper into the bad stuff, let me recount the happier moments. I was about to erase that when I realized that I really meant one moment. My uncle was standing around when the DJ played Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star." I told him that he should ask his wife to dance. His response was that she was in conversation. So I walked over and tapped her on her shoulder.

"My friend over there would like to dance with you on this song."

"Well if he really wants to dance with me, he would ask me himself."

I sped across the dance floor.

"My friend says that if you ask her, she'd probably dance with you."

Next thing I know the two of them were dancing. And this is part of the reason why I put up with all of the crap from my family. The moments like this that will live on in my memory for the rest of my life. Of course, this particular aunt is the same one who realized that I was severely depressed at age 12. Might have something to do with the fact that she is a child psychologist. And now she's not alone in the family. The daughter of one of my first cousin's (That would be my first cousin once removed for those of you keeping track.) is now a forensic psychologist. A part of me still remembers her as the two-year-old who patted on the side of the bed until I awoke the day I had flown cross-country. But then at my grandmother's funeral, I changed my mind. She was openly sporting a tattoo and I thought to myself that perhaps there was yet another rebel child in the family. Word has it that she will be making an appearance in town in the next couple of weeks. I hope so.

My mom used to be really close to my dad's sister -- the one celebrating the birthday. But that all fell apart over the last few years. First my mom realized that my aunt was talking smack about my mom behind her back. Then my aunt said some rather malicious -- and untrue -- things about me. When my aunt was first diagnosed with cancer four years ago, my mother set all this stuff aside. And then in the last year, my mother found out that once more my aunt was saying mean things about me. My mother cannot understand how knowing this I can still speak to her. I do but it's hard. We both agree that my aunt is a fun person to be around. And if you are strong enough person, then you can walk away from her smack-talking. And know that one day it will all catch up with her. I hate to say it but, in my mind, her cancer is karmic payback. Because even though she has sent out a lot of positive energy into the world, she has sent just as much, perhaps even more so, hateful energy. And then sits around and chuckles and gloats about the misfortune of others.

When my mother returns, the two of us are supposed to sit down with my father and talk. I know that one of my mother's main concerns is that she thinks that I drink too much. (By the way, if I have failed to mention it previously, my mother thinks that anyone who has more than one to two drinks at a time drinks too much.) And that all my problems stem from that. Hopefully her younger sister, the former social worker, will set her straight on that one during their time together currently. Because I know that my aunt strongly believes that if someone is having a few too many drinks that it is a symptom of something else. (Yes, I have had these kind of discussions with her in the past. About my father.) After this weekend I realized why my dad does not have much to say on the subject.

He stopped drinking when I was 18 but this weekend I saw him sipping on Cabernet. Because my stepmother was not around at the time. A year and a half ago she shared with me her suspicions that he was drinking again. Shortly thereafter I discovered a bottle in his desk drawer along with a bottle of mouthwash. I was doing some work for him and had been left alone in his office. I was looking for some paperwork and stumbled across the secret stash. I deluded myself into believing that it was a temporary thing. Obviously not. And I guess he thinks that after 20 plus years, folks have forgotten how he used to be. My stepmother hasn't. She said that if he went back to being that person again, she wouldn't be sticking around. Of course, her memory is so shot from the cancer who knows if she even remembers this proclamation. She remembers who I am consistently but she is lucky to remember the names of longtime friends.

All I know is that I am going to need to pull it all together quickly, given the state of mind in which I have been in recent weeks. Because next weekend is a surprise birthday for my stepmother. And all the catty bitches will be there once more. Funny thing now that I think about it. It's only the women who give me problems. I get along perfectly fine with the men. And it's always been that way since I was in high school. Might have something to do with why for many years I had more male friends than I did female. And people wonder why I have difficulty in making long-term relationships.

Oh, and the beauty of the evening. One of my dad's cousins has a thing for one of his best friends. Everyone else in the family seems to accept this. I thought that I was alone in my dissent until they made the mistake of saying something in front of my aunt, the psychologist; she's my aunt by marriage. She said everything that I have thought over the last year or so. "Isn't he married? Why would you encourage this?" I warned you that my aunts, the blood-related ones at least, were not kind. They are two of the biggest bitches to walk this planet. Once they have you in their sight, it's hard to escape. Because they're real good at words but if you're willing to throw down? Oh, the biggest pair of girly girls. When I was six, I could take them. And I know that my father's older sister is probably afraid of me on many levels. Because as a part of one her classes for her master's, she had to give a number of IQ tests over various age groups. I happened to be around that summer so I was one of her test subjects. When she finished, she seemed rather surprised. While working in the office in high school, I finally saw my test results and put it all together. She had thought that I was kind of stupid all of those years. But I kick ass at standardized tests. Yes, I know that I am an anomaly being a person of color. And it prepared me for college. Because most of my classes from elementary school on had very few people of color. Kind of like college.

And you're wondering why we're going down this road. I told you. Stream of consciousness. Because there was a lot of talk last night about the influence of my grandparents. So my aunt? She's known for years that I could kick her ass -- physically and intellectually. While my other aunt unwrapped gifts last night, there was a look of shock when I totaled up the gift cards. My cousin, who is like an older sister to me, reminded her mother and our aunt that I have a near photographic memory. Especially when numbers are concerned. I don't know why they are so surprised. The family liked to think of one of my uncles who passed away a few years ago as being a savant. Yeah, some days he was brilliant but most days he was just plain nuts. So through the gift opening, I kept a running total of the gift cards. My last count was $250 for Macy's and $130 for Nordstrom. Of course, I could be wrong because as soon as I left, I tried to wipe the numbers from my head. And my non-recipient aunt? Well-deluded soul that she is, she thinks that her son should be reinstated to the Bar. Ummm. Hello. He stole from clients' escrow accounts. I wouldn't trust him right now. Or ever.

The good news is that I have another job interview tomorrow. Not that I really want the job. My dad (and BWB) understand why I don't want the job. It would be like settling for second best without finding out if you could have first. My aunt (Not the one with cancer; my dad's older sister. The queen of bitches.) and my mother seem to have this twisted belief. They are of the mind that a job is a job and that having one is better than not being employed. When I explained my decision making process to my dad, he got it. As did BWB. And BWB made the perfect analogy. Choosing the right job is like choosing the right boyfriend. It's bad to settle in either case.

So I am going through with the interview because I like to think of it as practice. But in my mind to accept the job would be the same as settling. And that's just not me.

And finally for some entertainment. I have previously mentioned that when I am around family, we discuss race and politics. My favorite from the weekend? When my father mentioned his chagrin in saying that Condalezza was nothing but Bush's ho in some of his white friends. I decided to top it all by giving an analogy. Condalezza is to Bush as Sally Hemings is to Jefferson. (This was a result of a discussion of Rumsfeld being appointed to the Hoover Commission and the outrage expressed by the other faculty of Stanford. "Refuge of right-wing Republicans?" Then he should fit right in.) And so there was that nervous pause from my relatives but then they chuckled. And this is what I will choose to remember along with that other happy moment (besides grooving to Sly and the Family Stone). For once I did not say anything so offensive (to them) that they could not chuckle.

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