26 July 2006

This could've been my first post

I wrote this piece not long before I started TTaT, but it wasn't the tone I wanted to set and I wasn't ready to share it then. There have been other times I considered posting it, but the desire to do so was prompted by anger seeking a convenient passive-aggressive outlet. Today, I just feel like posting some substantive writing.

Today, it almost feels like fiction.

"Don't end your sentence with a preposition," she sniped.


"Your grandmother would say it's between the A and the T."

I was still confused. I'd just walked through the kitchen and poked my head into the dining room to see if there were dishes and utensils on the table; this was the longest interchange we'd had in a week. I tried again: "I was just seeing where we're at with dinner." Immediately I recognized my faux-pas: Mom was making dinner, I was breezing in at the last minute. "Where you're at with dinner," I backtracked. It still didn't sound right, using the word "at." I inhaled deeply and gave it a final attempt, "I was just seeing how dinner's progressing." Mom kept stirring something on the stove, her back to me. She must be feeling better, I thought to myself.

At first she felt cold at night, not quite sick, just very cold. Customarily, we ate dinner and conversed together; now as soon as she was done, she cleared her plate and left, a deliberate leaving, not wanting our company. I leaned my warm teacup against my cheek as Dad finished eating, and then the two of us cleared the dishes.

The first few mornings, I asked with concern how she was feeling, but after a few dismissive "all rights," I was reluctant to ask. When a few days had passed, I received a vehement "fine" and wondered if my presence bothered her.

She took to fixing herself oatmeal, taking her cup of tea without its saucer, and sitting in her recliner in the living room while Dad and I ate in the dining room. We passed dishes and exchanged a few quiet comments while she sat a few feet away watching the tv on mute or low volume: there was no doorway, just a wide opening of wall between the two rooms; she was watching The Weather Channel.

Days passed with different meals, but the same dining configuration. Nothing we could say was right so we didn't say much at all. She seemed best pleased by our absence, so Dad came with me to Target almost an hour away. We made a day of it catching a matinee and then eating out. On the ride over, we talked about her, he and I; it was seasonal, he said. I told him that I hoped it wasn't because I was still at home; it had been some months and I'd yet to find a job that would pay enough so I could move out. Don't ever think that, he said, I went through the same thing last year at this time, and you weren't living with us then.

The same thing was depression, and I recognized the symptoms well; it was the triggers that continued to baffle me; they bore no resemblance to mine that I could see. No deaths that I knew of near these dates, no tragic family events, but then those weren't triggers for me either. An imbalance of body chemistry most likely. A simple equation should suffice: add x, y, z to counteract a, b, c; but of course science is far from absolute when it comes to the mind, and mental illness sounds far too much like a defect instead of a health issue for her to be willing to seek treatment.

When I was little, my mom told me a story from her childhood about boys throwing snakes on girls to make them cry. She didn't. She let the snake slither off her, and the boys didn't bother her anymore. The lesson I was probably supposed to learn was about dealing with boys, but what I always think of is that she didn't cry, she was tough. Even more probably, it was just a story she told to pass some time, but I think of it now when she bursts into tears unexpectedly, shooing my gaze away from her face with her hand saying, "Ignore this."

A couple of weeks ago the tears were always near the surface. On a few separate occasions (too many my fault), unintentionally insensitive comments led her to turn and walk away in an attempt to hide her welling tears; she was as frustrated as we were that she was taking everything so personally.

Her erratic behavior strikes me deeply, an awful premonition of my genetic future: depression-prone body chemistry short-circuiting my self control, my reason, my self-esteem. Quick to emotional hurt, tears, and blame, responses I despise in myself magnified by her into the self I dread most becoming.

Another week passed and then there she was again, sitting through all of dinner with us. Dad and I carefully avoided the addictive narcotic of being right: we endeavored to show interest without provoking debate of any kind. The next day, she skipped dinner (her sinuses were bothering her and she didn't feel like going out), but when Dad and I returned home, she called my name, told me to change the channel to 37, to CNN, to look at shots of the Basilica while they covered the viewing of the deceased pope. After a while, I joined her downstairs, told her what I'd seen, and watched some more coverage with her while she discussed columns, floor patterns, fabrics, and designs with an enthusiasm I hadn't heard in weeks. I was careful not to contradict her, to seem sufficiently interested, and to curb my unrelated yawns. The emotional lurches subsided and balance returned to our house dynamic.

One year ago at TTaT: Daiquiri lost
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  1. wow. that's a heavy post. really well written.

  2. Thanks. And yeah... it's never my intention to write so heavy, but that's just how it is sometimes.

  3. I love this. Your writing is exceptional.

  4. Melissa: Thanks so much. I've been enjoying your blog too since I came across it recently.